Meet the member: Dr Dearbhail Lewis
17 February, 2021
Our 'Meet the member' series introduces you to members across Northern Ireland, to learn more about their professional lives and personal histories.
From the Banbridge Town in the County Down, Dr Dearbhail Lewis works as a Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist with the Belfast Trust. She is also the Education and Training Officer with RCPsych NI, together with being a member of BMA NI’s consultants’ committee.
However, there is a lot more to Dr Lewis than her medical career. She and her husband Anthony, who is a consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology, oversee a family of five children, which is complemented with a shared love of nature and baking – something that is very evident in her many and colourful tweets. Her journey into medicine began in Our Lady's Grammar School in Newry, where she studied the sciences for A’ level, together with the Irish language, which has been a life-long love for Dearbhail UíLughaidh.
What made you choose psychiatry?
“Believe it or not, originally, I wanted to become a vet. However, I love working with people and that is where my interest in psychiatry began. In the summer between 1st and 2nd year at Queen’s, on the advice of my sister (an OT in Mental Health), I took a job as an OT assistant in Downshire.
"This was my first opportunity to work with people who had mental illness, and I really enjoyed the experience. I looked forward to my Psychiatry rotation, and I really enjoyed the time I spent in the Lagan Valley Hospital under Dr Nial Quigley, and it’s where I met Dr Min Chew, now one of my colleagues.
"After a final year elective in Psychiatry in the Prince Charles Hospital, Brisbane, I completed my JHO year in the Royal. I then took my first Psychiatry job in Windsor House at Belfast City Hospital under the supervision of Dr Michael Doherty, who was an inspirational figure. This post confirmed Psychiatry was the right fit for me, and I completed SHO training across various Trusts, before completing all my Registrar training in Belfast.
"My CCT is in General Adult Psychiatry, but I was very happy to be appointed as Consultant in Liaison Psychiatry (for over 65s) at the Royal Victoria Hospital in 2014, where I have a fantastic clinical director in Dr Barbara English."
Tell us about your current professional role?
"I am a Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist with the Belfast Trust. I am also an Educational Supervisor for Foundation Year 1 doctors and Foundation Programme Director for Foundation Year 2 doctors in the Royal. I was previously an Educational supervisor for both core and senior Psychiatry trainees in the Belfast Trust, before taking up the role of Specialty Tutor in August 2020.
“My career has been one big series of happy accidents and there have been so many colleagues who have truly inspired me along the way. When I was a trainee, Dr Paddy Moynihan was the doctor that I wanted to be when I grew up. I clearly recall her compassion and understanding, particularly when I needed time off for a bereavement in my then fiancé’s family, and this is something I have tried to emulate.
“One of the greatest aspects of helping people is receiving positive feedback which makes my work worthwhile. I can think of a case recently when I was able to make an intervention that made a difference and help transform the lives of the patient and his family - it is a source of great satisfaction.
“Like any jobs, there are aspects that can be frustrating, mainly relating to operational issues. I always try and remain positive and I am inspired by the quote of the poet Mairtín Ó Direáin, ‘Coigil aithinne d’Aislinge Scaradh léi is éag duit’, which translates from the Irish as, ‘Keep a hold of your dream, for to part with it is your destruction.’ It is a beautiful and inspirational line."
What would you say to someone considering a career in psychiatry?
“I’d say just go for it and choose psychiatry. There are so many specialties available and one will light a spark for you. My advice is to grab hold and stick with it as you will have the total support of your colleagues to help you along the way.”
What does your role as Education and Training Officer at the College involve?
“I was appointed to this role in November 2018. I represent RCPsych NI on the national RCPsych Education and Training Committee, which oversees the education and training of psychiatrists at each stage of their careers, monitors standards of training and the MRCPsych Examinations and formulates policy regarding Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This work complements the educational role I have in my own job, and I enjoy being able to make connections with other consultant colleagues who share the same passion for medical education."
What do you enjoy most about being involved in the work of the College?
“I love the sense of collegiality that the College brings and the opportunity it offers to network with other psychiatrists from across the specialties. Being involved with the College is very rewarding and we receive great support from staff and honorary officers alike.”
How difficult has it been for psychiatrists throughout the pandemic?
“This has been a trying time for doctors, patients and their families, and many people are worried about the longer-term impact of the pandemic, particularly the legacy it will leave for mental health services. Throughout Covid, we have worked so hard to ensure that the best services are maintained and available.
“Thankfully, one day, we will be able to look back on this period, but my advice to those struggling to cope would be you are not alone, so take the opportunity every day to enjoy the small things in life, such as hobbies and exercise, to help you through.”
A love of life and home comforts...
Pre-Covid days, in the by-gone days of physical meetings, Dearbhail was always a welcome and popular attendee at meetings in Clifton House. It was there that her baking skills were always to the fore as, without fail, she turned-up accompanied with a tin of freshly baked biscuits or buns.
“Baking to me has become a way to release stress and something that I am quite good at, but my old Home Economics teacher would beg to differ. I get lost in the process it helps me unwind.
“I have a love of nature that came from my mother and father, Anne and Dominic. I am lucky now to live in the country, which, to me, is a godsend as we are surrounded by birds and nature. Home life and nature is a lovely escape for me and my family, and we discover new things every day that never fail to amaze.
"For me, where I live is my little bit of heaven, as the great philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, 'Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads'. It is so true!”